My friend, a notorious local poet, stopped by Saturday for coffee, cigarettes and a little wisdom.
He needed advice, or so he said, and I was busy sitting out on the stoop, ruminating over the passing of yet another holiday and trying to ascertain just what this particular watershed moment might mean for the future. I was lazily mixing screwdrivers by pouring one mouthful of orange juice behind a mouthful of cheap vodka. I felt that if I was able to get fashionably drunk in the late afternoon, maybe I could finally make some sense of this whole Holiday business. But he wasn’t interested in things like that…he was on a Case and he needed access to my excellent Research Facilities.
He was looking for some Russian girl he’d stumbled across on the web who was trying to sell her chest x-rays which were purportedly made in Kiev just before she made the Big Move to the West.
“Why the hell would you want her chest x-rays?” I asked him.
“No you dolt, I don’t care about the x-rays, I just need to find out about her. Who she is, where she hangs out, what circles she moves in…things like that,” he said.
“Right,” I said. “Maybe we should call Zero.”
He told me he had already purchased the dubious services of the city’s only private detective, Zero DeMayo, and he had come up empty. But this failure wasn’t due to a lack of training. No. Zero DeMayo was highly trained by the PGR and he was well-versed in all the critical tactics needed to beat truant Americans with rifle butts and heavy sacks whenever they were unfortunate enough to get caught acting suspiciously south of the border and then to make examples of them in the media by tossing them back into the U.S. But, obviously, that was no help in tracking down female Russian emigrants living in the South. Besides, Zero had gone “native” and had taken to spending most of his time in one chili hall bar room or another; sucking on a tequila bottle while making ham-handed passes at heavy-bottomed American senoritas.
“He’s no good to us,” my friend the poet said. “We have to handle this Case ourselves.”
I just nodded quietly and wondered how many times I’d be forced into action by the various freaks who moved through my life. “Alright,” I said and we got to work.
We set about a quick search of the internet and the voluminous files that are stored in the catacombs and vaults here at Chez Rooked and we were able, rather quickly, to find out as much as we needed to know about the Russian mystery girl. Well…enough to start with anyway.
“You know how these Russian girls are,” he said, pacing around the room and rubbing his hands together. “There’s no telling why she’s here or what she’s up to or what she may have been forced to do in exchange for passage to the Free World.”
“Right,” I said.
Once we had the basic data, we set out to weigh the options and examine all the possible dangers of screwing around with a crazy Russian chick loose in America for the first time. We definitely didn’t want to wrangle unnecessarily with the Russian mafia or get mixed up too heavily with some rogue element of the KGB. Not to mention locking horns with some weirdo from the sticks who was still wearing the shine of his brand new mail order bride while she was all clean and fresh, just bought from behind the ominous Iron Curtain.
“To hell with all this,” the poet said. “We need to act…and now.”
“Right,” I said.
I thought back to the Old days when he and I had acted on other, similar cases and I knew that soon we’d be out touring the bars, getting too drunk and questioning various women about their nationality and the circumstances of their residence in the USA; hoping to, somehow, stumble across the object of his Eastern Bloc affections.
I realized that I looked a fright. I hadn’t been shaving for a week and I had cancelled all my appointments. I needed time to freshen up.
“No time for that now,” he told me emphatically. “We’ve got to move.” So I just tried to smooth my hair down and I put on my most patriotic tee shirt and my herring bone jacket and we ventured out into the growing darkness.
It is here, at this juncture in the narrative, that my memory gets a bit hazy. We ran up considerable bar tabs everywhere we stopped and I was already building on a pretty good foundation of vodka; oh the irony. I feel certain that we visited no fewer than three separate establishments and leaned heavily on any patrons who had even the slightest cast of “foreigner” about them.
I can dredge up the diaphanous vision of my friend smacking his hand down on a table occupied by several young ladies and screaming about the fall of the Soviet Union, the political failings of Vladimir Putin and how he had always thought that Khrushchev looked like his long-dead great-grandmother.
I can see myself, as if from some great distance or maybe viewed from the surface while at the bottom of a well, stumbling into people and, under the weight of too many potent libations, cursing them and screaming about “Damned Ruskies!” the “Missile Gap,” the “Space Race” and how salty caviar tends to be late at night…when you’re inebriated and there’s no other food around worth eating.
We were tagged instantly by most of the people we met as crazed xenophobes out for revenge against the Evil Empire and we weren’t making very many friends in the process. But we didn’t care. Every girl we approached who wasn’t Russian could only bring us one step closer to Pay Dirt. Yes; it was twisted, beer hall logic but it made perfect sense at the time.
The poet staggered into me later in the night as our paths crossed. “Here,” I said. “Take this camera. We’ll get pictures of them for our Database.”
“Good thinking,” he told me. “These will come in handy.”
Next, we decided to stick together and use the old Good Cop/Bad Cop routine in the vain hope of eliciting the kind of answers we really wanted. We tried it several times but our efforts were fruitless…especially since most of the girls we cornered were either too stupid to understand what we were after or too drunk to care.
Finally, I got pulled aside by a thick-armed bouncer who wanted to know exactly what we were up to.
“Shhhhh!” I hissed at him. “Don’t you understand? They’re everywhere. We’ve got to keep this quiet. National Security is at stake!”
We were asked to leave right after that and I was forced to call home for “Back Up.”
She picked us up alright and we immediately insisted on going to another bar to continue the search. Within the hour, she was as bent as we were and she even started asking girls where they were from.
There was no hope of us ever getting anywhere near anything even remotely Russian. Even my vodka was domestic.
Somewhere, in the blur and fog of the night, we ended up leaving our car parked outside a local chicken shack where we pounded on the door for twenty minutes, demanding chicken, before we realized they were closed for the night. We flagged down a passing taxi and begged him to take us to where all the Russian girls hang out. Eventually, we settled for home; since he did threaten to kick our “Communist-Loving Asses” out of his cab unless we made with an address. “And fast.”
I came to the next morning and realized that we had lost the poet in the night. He wasn’t where we’d left him on the floor. Ah well, I thought. He’ll be back when the next craze hits and we’ll be off again looking for something we’ll never find.
I went out to the stoop and lit a cigarette. I looked up to see that the sky had settled into a sullen crust of dingy gray and the dirty, ragged clouds were limping by, too low for my comfort. I felt like an unknown soldier in a Secret War; a freak on the Front Lines…all heavy gun-belts and hard armor inserts; fighting invisible enemies on the cold Russian frontier; too far from Home-Base and cut off from all hope of aid or reinforcements.
I felt bad for the poet. I’m sure that, if we had found his Russian dream girl, he could have found endless ways to exploit all the quirky perks of that type of relationship. And I felt sure, somewhere in the hollows of my sodden heart, that they were legion and I knew that he would find a way to explore them all.
I knew it was silly…but I guess he just needed somebody.
It’s hard to need somebody. Then again…it’s hard not to.